As of Thursday morning, the five largest fires — each more than 100,000 acres — are collectively about 1% contained. Wind and unstable air conditions are making it impossible for firefighters to begin to try to contain many of the most threatening fires, officials said.
“We have never seen this amount of uncontained fire across our state,” Brown said.
An estimated 30,000 to 40,000 Oregonians have evacuated their homes, she said. An unknown number have died, she said.
“Oregonians are eager to get all of the information as quickly as possible. Right now our firefighters are focused on saving lives, and we want them to stay focused on that critical work,” Brown said. “As we get more information about fatalities, we will provide that to the public as quickly as possible.”
There are about 3,000 firefighters actively working to respond to the fires but Doug Grafe, chief of fire protection at the Oregon Department of Forestry, said it will likely take twice that number over the coming weeks to get the fires under control.
It was a grim reprisal of the first such briefing she held one day earlier at which she warned people to expect massive loss of homes, businesses, other property and human lives.
Fire officials said they are particularly worried about three fires burning in or toward Clackamas County: Riverside, Beachie and Lionshead. Winds that have continue to press down and westward into the canyons and drainages where those fires grew have made it impossible for firefighter to make serious efforts to contain them, Grafe said.
Mariana Ruiz-Temple, chief deputy state fire marshal, said officials are very concerned that the Beachie and Riverside fires could merge, causing “explosive fire activity.”
Grafe said the two fires almost certainly will combine and push toward Molalla.
Brown announced during the virtual news conference that an evacuation order had been put in place for the Molalla area.
“It’s all going to be about those winds,” Grafe cautioned. If the down-slope winds continue, he said, those fires will continue to move westerly for miles, as it will be unsafe for firefighters to make serious efforts to contain them.
He notes that crews have begun to make slight but encouraging progress containing some of the fires in southern Oregon, in Washington County and at the coast.
Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management, advised Oregonians in a firm tone not to engage in disaster tourism. And he said residents evacuated from danger zones also should not return until cleared to do so.
To anyone tempted to drive to evacuated areas to look at the damage, Phelps admonished, “Don’t do it.”
“It’s disrespectful to those who have lost everything” and is “dangerous to you and firefighters,” Phelps said.
Brown expressed deep sympathy for all those who have been evacuated and particularly those who have lost their homes. Hundreds of families are believed to have done do.
She also thanked the first responders and those caring for evacuees.
— The Oregonian/OregonLive Politics Team; @OregonianPol